Pianist Paul Bley, a Prominent Jazz Experimentalist, Dies at 83 Years Old

By Ian Holubiak on Jan 07, 2016 01:40 PM EST
Pianist Paul Bley (Photo : Video Still/Paul Bley - Alrac (solo piano) LIVE video 1973/Jazz Harmonie)

Paul Bley, an icon to jazz fans and a force behind experimental music in recent years, has died at his home in Stuart, Florida. He passed away on Sunday and was 83 years old. His record label, ECM, confirmed Bley's death but did not state the cause of death.

Described as melodic, measured, bluesy, polytonal and so on, Mr. Bley was a proponent of the standards but also rebelled against traditional form. His distrust of structure and repetition helped shape an opinion about the way music should be played.

He's quoted as saying:

"I've spent many years learning how to play as slow as possible and then many more years learning how to play as fast as possible. I've spent many years trying how to play as good as possible. At the present I'm trying to spend as many years learning how to play as bad as possible."

His insight and remarkable grasp for the dark side of music lent him a career spent with musicians like Charlie Parker and Lennie Tristano, Charles Mingus and Sonny Rollins, Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman, Carla Bley and Annette Peacock.

The piano virtuoso was born and raised in Montreal. At the age of 5 he began violin and at 8 the piano. From there and in just 20 years as a musician, he began to chip away at longstanding career in music, which included an appointment to Oscar Peterson's trio when he was just a teenager and in high school.

He enrolled at the Juilliard School in New York City during the height of bebop and in 1953 made his debut recording with Charles Mingus on bass and Art Blakey on drums.

His identity as a musician would not come to fruition until later, when he would head west to Los Angeles and land a gig at the Hillcrest Club, and where he would meet his soon-to-be wife Carla Bley (Karen), who he would also divorce.

Nearing his departure from LA, he hired saxophonist Ornette Coleman and trumpeter Don Cherry to join his group and instantly took to Coleman's experimental technique.

From there, Bley would foray into the other side of it all, performing and recording throughout the '80s both here and abroad, with musicians of all stripes and putting out solo records of his design--which are, obviously, not for the average listener.

An artist true to his own convictions, he will be sorely missed from the community.

Our condolences to Bley's family and loved ones during this tragic time.

Remember him fondly with a performance, adorned with a most prestigious-looking pipe, by the artist below.

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TagsPaul Bley, Celebrity Death

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